It doesn’t take long for them to say it. It happens after a vacation to Yellowstone and a few trips to Great America. It happens after summer camps and summer reading programs and summer festivals. It happens after the Frisbee loses its zip, the jump rope loses its skip and the Slip and Slide loses its slip.
You are in the bathroom and there’s a knock at the door. It’s your child with an important message for you: “I’m bored.”
You hesitate in responding. Maybe they will go away. But they don’t. They kick the door to let you know that they are desperately, seriously bored. Now their voice carries an impetuous whiny tone, like a cicada’s unending drone. “There’s nothing to doooooo…!”
For a moment you actually stare at the window of the bathroom and contemplate the possibility of escaping. But you can’t. You are trapped and must reply. “Just a minute,” you nervously respond.
But you know you don’t even have a minute. Now you’re standing with your ear to the door, listening. You can almost hear the heavy breathing on the other side, the heaving and sighing of boredom poised on two little legs.
You open it just a crack, but it’s enough for those beady, bored eyes to connect with yours. Eyes that say, “Must have fun. Need fun. Gimme more fun.”
You ease the door shut and lock it. You need time to think. You grab the hair dryer and turn it on to buy some time. And in between the sound of whooshing hot air and plaintive door pounding, you suddenly get an idea. You smile to yourself as you confidently open the door.
“Well, my little one, what’s bothering you?”
“I’m bored. There’s nothing to do.”
“Gee, that’s too bad. I wish there was something I could do about it, but, sadly, your Summer Fun Entitlement Account is currently overdrawn.”
“Your Summer Fun Entitlement Account.”
“Let me explain it to you. You know how I have been running around this summer taking you to fun places to do fun things?”
“Well, that’s your Summer Fun Entitlement Account.”
“So, you’ve used it all up. There is no more entitlement for the rest of the summer.”
“There’s really nothing I can do about it. Once you’ve lost your entitlement, it’s out of my hands. Sorry, have a great day.”
You turn your back and walk away. But it isn’t over. The best part is still to come. Within a few minutes you are hunted down.
“Hey, what am I supposed to do?”
“Gee, honey, I don’t know. Hope you figure that out.”
You again walk away in the midst of stunned silence. It still isn’t over, but it’s getting close.
“Um, I still got nothing to do.”
“Oh yes, you do.”
“You could start by deciding what to do.”
That’s it. Speechless, confused, and worn down, the next time you see your child they are reading a library book or building something with Legos. If the topic of boredom is again breeched, just look sad, shrug your shoulders, mention something about entitlement and walk away. They’ll be asking where the crayons and drawing paper are in no time.
Once kids learn that it is not your job to provide them with endless summer fun, they will take responsibility for their own entertainment. Set a limit on their Summer Fun Entitlement Account and stick to it. They will discover that every day cannot be the Best Day Ever. They will learn to fill in the entitlement gaps with imagination and creativity. Best of all, they’ll figure out that our lives are not defined by great moments, but by perfectly ordinary, if not boring ones.
So, parents, here’s hoping that this will stop the whining. But remember, if all else fails, you can always lock yourself in the bathroom and turn on the hair dryer.
• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. Important note: The Summer Fun Entitlement Account concept does in no way apply to retired husbands. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.